Nothing is quite as unexpected, ego-busting, and damaging as a racing shell crashing to the ground when a boat sling collapses.
And few things are more preventable.
Don’t skimp on boat slings
Rowing shell slings (aka trestles or portable work stations) are designed to do one thing, and to do it well—support the weight of a shell at the proper height so it can be worked on.
It’s a dang important challenge and most well-designed slings are up for it. But only if they are in good condition.
I’ve seen too-many-people put brand-new-and-expensive-racing-shells in very marginal-quality-slings. And I’ve seen, unfortunately, close to a dozen times where a marginal sling wasn’t up for the challenge and a boat crashed straight down or tipped over.
What goes into high quality rowing shell slings?
A good quality rowing shell sling:
- Will easily fold, unfold, and folds flat
- Has stainless steel fasteners
- Is weight rated for your equipment (300+ pounds for 8)
- Is sturdy when boat is loaded
- Made of solid and durable material
- Has a low cradle area (where the hull sits) that is below top parts of sling (helps with balance)
- Holds boat at a height that allows for easy working on boat seats-up or seats-down (24-36 inches tall)
- Lasts a long time.
According to Lauri Crowe, President of Suspenz, Inc, maker of a wide variety of slings, racks and workstations, there are a few quality traits to look for: “Simple things are important and a sign of quality such as nut and bolt fasteners (no rivots), thick rubber feet, and tough sling material.”
However, regardless of the quality of a rowing sling, there are two issues which will certainly shorten the lifespan and usefulness of any sling.
What destroys a rowing shell sling
First, slings get abused—especially in storage and transport. Piles of slings in the corner of the boathouse or in the bottom of a shell trailer are common sights. That is, if you can see them from all the stuff stacked on top of them.
Second, rowing slings get little if any maintenance—until something bad happens. They are put away wet while their cradle material mildews and rots, or their non-stainless fasteners corrode.
By being proactive with your boat sling maintenance you can save yourself a big (crashing) letdown. Here’s a plan to do just that.
Inspect the slings
Find an area where you can work. Gather up your slings and prepare for an inspection. Take each sling, set it up, and give it the once over.
If you have folding slings (the most common type) inspect the fasteners at the intersection of the legs. Make sure they are healthy and tight. Next, check the fasteners that holds the cradle material to the legs.
Now search for frayed or rotten areas in the material that holds the boat. Inspect with care, and look for any areas that show wear and tear.
Frayed areas are weak spots and often prone to ripping. As the picture shows, small tears can happen and SMALL will become BIG in short order.
Repair your boat slings
After inspection, if the sling looks good, put it in a GOOD pile, and move on to the next one.
If the sling isn’t perfect either repair or recycle it—but make sure you take any steps you need to keep it out of the GOOD pile.
Repairs might be as simple as tightening loose fasteners. Or more involved, like replacing the cradle material, cross member, or legs. If you are unsure how-to or if-you-should repair your boat sling or replace it then it’s probably worth reaching out to the maker.
The price of a new sling could be around $150 a set (or more), YET the price of the boat you want it to safely support is a whole lot more. So, I’d error on the side of caution and just go ahead and replace if in doubt.
Replacing the slings
If you’ve decided to go the new-sling-route there are companies that sell-high quality rowing shell slings. Personally, I am most comfortable with slings made with aluminum tubing, that have cradles which are deep and made of tough material. Models such as the “Atlanta sling” are very popular, and those are my favorite.
What’s great about boat slings like these is you can put your boat seats-up or seats-down, and the internal frame is strong and can lock open. They also fold flat and are easy to carry.
Here are a few companies to check out when considering purchasing slings:
Action Steps: Storing your rowing shell slings properly will take some thought
How and where you store your slings is going to greatly impact how long they function and last.
Give storage some thought. A few recommendations for YOUR sling storage:
- Designate a specific area for sling storage, out of the way, but accessible when needed
- Store slings in upright position (reduces stuff stacked on top of them)
- Pick an area out of direct sunlight, dry and that has decent airflow (cradle material can mildew)
- Identify/label each sling with ownership
I’d make sure you do an inspection/repair/replace effort of your boat slings more than once per year, and certainly keep your eyes and ears open for any issues that might come up with them during the season.
You’re trying to avoid the BIG letdown, so don’t hesitate in being proactive.
BTW: when you’re working in the boathouse, if you see a rower sitting in a sling, shoo them off—slings are meant to hold boats, not humans.